The Books Are Back

After filing for bankruptcy in November, Vienna’s British Bookshop is back in busines

TVR Books | Ana Tajder | March 2009

The pace of events surrounding the agonies of the British Bookshop last autumn was worthy of a Hollywood thriller. On Nov. 17 2008, Vienna’s book lovers were shocked to learn that The British Bookshop, the city’s largest and oldest English-language bookstore, had filed for bankruptcy. And then, just as the ink was drying on the "end of an era" eulogies for a beloved literary institution, they heard the breaking news:

The British Bookshop had found a new owner.

First opened in 1974 from a former reading room set up by the British Embassy after World War II, the British Bookshop moved to Weihburggasse in 1994, and in 1998, was bought by  Georg Prachner Buchhandels GmbH. But in November 2008 its owner filed for bankruptcy, a joint debt of more than 1,8 Million Euro.  Rising competition from powerful bookstore chains, as well as Internet-based bookstores like  Amazon had cut heavily into sales.

But the story wasn’t over. It took only two weeks for The British Bookshop to find a new owner, Mumbai-based shipping magnate and philanthropist Vikram Naik. An earlier initiative concentrated on opening libraries and supporting education in developing countries.

"He had luck in his country and made lots of money," said Michael Lock, the bookstore’s new manager. "Now he wants to give part of it to those who need it." One doesn’t usually think of Vienna’s first district as in need of support.

"No," Lock agrees, "but a bookstore is. He heard about our financial problems and he likes the idea of supporting the British Bookshop." Indeed, when asked about the acquisition of the shop, the 53-year-old Naik said that he had bought as "cultural heritage," not as a business.

So what has changed since the take over? Not the name or the location. A face-lift is planned, says Lock, but for now the focus is on setting up the business and offering a great selection of books. The new British Bookstore does not see itself as competing directly with Amazon – it wants to offer the bookstore experience, including good advice and interesting events. The prices of the new stock have dropped 20% and the bookstore is planning to offer a great choice of DVDs and audio books.

But most important, the store is back and open for business. The initial stock offers a choice of over 2,000 general reading titles, consisting mainly of classic and modern bestselling paperbacks, priced at an average of €10.00 each. Special order services have been expanded and customers are now able to order millions of new and used titles from the UK and USA. Orders will take between two and four weeks to arrive.

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    the vienna review March 2009